The Revelations by Alex Preston
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
If you think that all Christians are hypocrites and the Alpha Course is a cult, then this is the book for you. However, if you are more realistic in your outlook then the shortcomings of this book will probably annoy you as much as they annoyed me.
The book follows the lives of four young (late 20s) Christians who are helping run 'The Course' for the first time. They are all musicians and the band they play in (at The Course) is known as 'The Revelations', hence the title of the book. The Course itself is clearly a fictionalised and exaggerated version of the Alpha Course, a popular introduction to Christianity course run by many churches in the UK and beyond. However, in the book, 'The Course' is clearly much more of a cult-like entity rather than being merely an entry point into mainstream evangelical Christianity. Indeed, one of the characters in the book refers to The Course as being a cult.
The book is clearly written by someone who is not a Christian and has issues with Christianity. I've been through an Alpha Course, and been involved with leadership in other similar courses, and as a consequence, the behind-the-scenes bits in this book simply do not ring true at all. Course leaders do not behave like this, talk like that, pray like that or sing worship songs like that. Basically, the Course in the book is so much of a caricature that it is unreal.
I know that not all Christians are perfect and honourable, but I can't believe in the scenario given here where all four characters leading the Course are hypocrites, liars, sexually promiscuous (with course attendees) and get drunk (again with course attendees) all the time. While you do get people like that in Churches, generally they are not invited to lead worship or evangelism groups.
The book is split into three sections, the first relates to the 'normal' weekly workings of the Course, the second relates to the weekend retreat, which anyone familiar with Alpha will be familiar with, and the third relates to the unraveling of the lives of the characters following the events of the retreat weekend. I'll not give spoilers.
Given what I've said above, I found section 1 to be unrealistic. I didn't like the characters, I didn't believe the scenarios, I didn't care what happened. But I'd paid for the book so I kept reading...
Section 2 was more interesting, and you do start to care a little for some of the characters. Particularly Lee, who is clearly a fragile character with various complicated needs, which obviously is going to start things spiraling out of control in the third section. But the prevalent sexual promiscuity and drunken debauchery through the weekend retreat is so far from believable for anyone who's ever been on one, that the thing is simply unrealistic. Half of it I could relate to, half of it would never happen like that. This is a book written by an external viewer imagining what might happen on such courses, not someone who's actually been there.
But. By the third section I was caring for the characters and genuinely wanted to find out how all this was going to resolve. There are a couple of twists that send the story heading off in directions you don't expect and it is a fun ride. Then the story ends, but there is still 10% of the book left... The final bit drags as a few final 'revelations' come out, some which are expected, some less so, and you realise that all that has gone before is not exactly as you thought. And at the end you realise that none of the characters are honorable, even the ones you thought were basically good people. Its all about money, sex and power. None of the characters has any other driving motivation. Which is a crap way to end the book.
I'm disappointed. The author could have filled his book with a variety of characters with different wants and desires, but actually no. As far as he is concerned, all Christians are drunken, promiscuous, hypocrites.
Given how far from reality that belief is, the ending is a huge let down.
Oh, and by the way, there is quite a lot of unnecessary sex in this book. With quite a few scenes with details which we really didn't need to know, and only serve to underline the hypocrisy of the characters further. We got the message, OK?
Bottom line is that I know a lot of Christians and I don't know any people like these. Sure, I know Christians who have had affairs, sure I know Christians who drink too much occasionally, sure I know Christians who are motivated by greed, sure I know Christians who lie and cheat. But on the whole, the vast majority of Christians I know are not like this all the time. So in the end, I simply don't believe this story.